The cataclysm in Syria — the atrocities, humanitarian crisis and escalating hostilities — could hardly get worse. But it could. US Syria policy — the moral and strategic errors, deferral to Russia and Iran, and enabling of Assad — could hardly get worse. But it could. Fallout in the region — the opportunities for Iran, Russia, ISIS and other jihadists that the war provides — could hardly get worse. But it could.
The ideas that Russia can be a “partner” in fighting ISIS, that Russia and Iran can play a “constructive role” in the region, and that Syrians can “coexist” with a regime that causes such horrors and devastation are fantasies, already proven wrong. Perpetuating policies based on such delusions would be to knowingly steer American foreign policy even further off course.
From the beginning, the Obama administration indulged dictators, offering to “normalize” relations with the worst of them. Thus, even though Syria was a state sponsor of terror that had backed a brutal puppet government in Lebanon, and caused severe setbacks for American troops by arming and training Iraqi insurgents, the Obama administration reached out. They went so far as to suggest brutal Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad was a “reformer” and to recommend him as “intermediary” in the Middle East peace process.
President Obama and his foreign policy team were then idle and mute as Assad unleashed atrocities in response to an initially peaceful pro-democracy rebellion, and as war in Syria, and the tragic human toll, escalated out of control. In response to the Assad regime’s slaughter, systematized torture, and use of heavy artillery, barrel bombs and chemical weapons on civilians, the United States: described the conflict in morally equivalent terms of “violence” between two sides; deferred to the UN Security Council, wherein it knew Russia would veto any meaningful action; obstructed or diluted every substantive Congressional proposal; rejected pleas for a humanitarian corridor and a stronger response; defined-down “red lines” and backed away from Obama’s one-time assertion that “Assad must go.”
Aggressors and terrorists capitalized on the vacuum created by America’s moral and strategic inertia. Russia fared particularly well. John Kerry held repeated “talks” with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, which resulted in deferral to Russian “peace plans” that bought Assad time, often just when time was running out. This September, the Obama administration astoundingly agreed to “cooperate militarily” with Russia “against ISIS” even though Russia and Syria routinely spared ISIS while bombarding rebels and civilians. Although the deal quickly collapsed, in November, Obama ordered the Pentagon to “find and kill” leaders of Nusra, the militant group Putin insisted the United States target; one the Free Syria Army had sided with after it purportedly separated from Al Qaeda. Shortly thereafter, more “discussions” between Kerry and Lavrov ensued.
The stage was thereby set for the final genocidal assault by Russia, Syria, Iran and their proxies upon Aleppo. Yet, Russian propaganda still convinces some of us that Russia, and perhaps even Syria, can be “partners” in the war on terror. When we side with them, we hand anti-American jihadists their own propaganda, and forget that the Assad regime has long supported terror. We’ve made deals with the devils for too long.
Ricochet welcomes new contributor Dr. Anne Pierce, author of A Perilous Path: The Misguided Foreign Policy of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. You can read her full bio here.